March 5th, 2009 → 1:06 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s been an eventful off-season: there’s the whole A-Rod ‘roid thing, the just-completed Manny negotiations, and the Yankees $800 trillion signing of Mark Texeria. In honor of all this, let’s–as Phil Lesh used to say–take a step back…and relive some moments from years gone by.
In honor of Scott Boras’s always-entertaining deal-making: an FTM excerpt about Johnny Damon’s dishonest decamping to the Yankees.
In honor of the ever-growing PED scandal: Bill James’s stance on steroids, the possibility of Jose Canseco being a great prophet, and the sheer lunacy of the MLB Players Association stance on drug testing.
And finally, in honor of the most entertaining third-basement playing today: the oft-overlooked connection between A-Rod and Jon Lester and the union’s stupidity vis-a-vis the 2003 A-Rod contract circus.
October 1st, 2008 → 10:25 am @ Seth Mnookin
I’ve been a fan Millers Falls statistician Chuck Waseleski — whose telling (and not so telling) bits of arcana have appeared the Globe under the heading “From the maniacal one” for lo these many years. There are a couple of particularly interesting tidbits in today’s end-of-season offering, including the fact that J.D. Drew had the most game-winning RBIs on the Sox this year, with 11.
I’ve always been a fan of Drew’s — he doesn’t get enough credit from the hoi polloi for his defense because he makes it look fairly effortless and he has a gorgeous swing — but even so, this surprised me. The guy, after all, missed almost a third of the season’s games — and of the games he did play in he had two or fewer at-bats in 14, including three games in which he had no official plate appearances. I’m in the school that feels that when you have a bunch of mid-30s players on your roster (Drew turns 33 in December; Lowell turns 35 in February; Tek will turn 37 (!) the first week of the ’09 season) you can’t ascribe injuries to just bad luck. It’s still painful to think of what the Sox would look like going into the playoffs with all of their starters healthy.
Two other things that popped out at me:
* Boston was 29-32 against the AL East in games not started by Jon Lester (this stat actually isn’t among Chuck’s offerings; I got it by doing some super advanced math and subtracting Lester’s 9-2 ALE record from the team’s 38-34 record against other teams in its division).
* 81 percent of Dice-K’s K’s were of the swinging variety. I’m not sure if that makes it more or less surprising that he had so many walks.
OK. Time for a nap in preparation for tonight’s 10:07 game time.
December 4th, 2007 → 11:17 am @ Seth Mnookin
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been strangely quiet as of late – and that silence has continued even after my return from a glorious, two-and-a-half-week trip to Southeast Asia. (I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: nothing says romance like reading a bio of Pol Pot on your honeymoon.) I’ve avoid my usual laundry list of excuses.
I will, however, say this: I’ve always been reticent about jawing off when I have no real idea what I’m talking about…and such is the case with all of the sundry Santana trade permutations. I don’t mean the specifics of a possible trade — no one knows those except for Theo, Bill Smith, and Brian Cashman. I mean that I don’t know enough (and what’s more, haven’t done the work) to be able to make any kind of responsible or intelligent observations about whether this or that scenario makes sense. I don’t have the drilled-down numbers on Jacoby; I haven’t run the projections on Santana; I sure as hell don’t have any sense of what the pool of pitching talent is like in next few amateur drafts; I don’t know where else the Sox (or the Yankees) would spend that $130 mil or so it’ll likely take to lock up Santana…well, you get the idea. And even if I did have all of this info and even if I had done all of this work, I still would be so many light years behind where the Sox front office is in terms of brainpower, man hours spent hunched over spreadsheets, cumulative knowledge, and on and on, that it would be silly for me to start soapboxing about why this or that scenario makes sense.
Which leaves me with…emotion. Emotionally, I don’t want to lose Jacoby, and this is even after the wife grew besotted with him after a recent lunch they shared together. Emotionally, I’m in love with homegrown teams. Emotionally, I want to go into battle with a roster that includes four homegrown players (Youk, DP, Jed Lowrie, and Ellsbury), two guys that the Sox should rightly get credit for growing (Tek and Papi), and a couple of hired guns (JDD and Manny). Emotionally, I want Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and Papelbon and Manny DC and yes, even Craig Hansen to round out a rotation that’ll be anchored by Beckett and Dice-K for the next half-decade or so. Emotionally, I’m nervous about paying a premium for a pitcher’s post-30 years. And, dare I say it, emotionally I find something a little, well, gross, about the prospect of the Sox going out and buying the best left-handed pitcher in the game to augment what’s arguably already the best rotation in baseball.
But the Sox front office doesn’t get paid to traffic in emotion – and thank goodness for that. Emotion would have ended up with Nomar and Pedro still collecting paychecks from Yawkey Way and, in all likelihood, with a 90-year championship drought.
At the moment — at 10:02 am on December 4 — it sounds as if the Sox are actually close to a deal, one that would keep Ellsbury in Boston and send Lester, Lowrie, and Coco to Minnesota. (Sigh. Coco. I still love the guy.) If it happens, it could be a great deal. And if it happens, it’ll be worth paying attention to what happens to Lowrie down the line. Plenty of times, those third names that no one has ever heard of end up turning into pretty good players. It was Lester, after all, who was headed to Texas four years ago as part of the aborted Manny for A-Rod deal…
Anyway, if that deal does go down, the Sox will have to be the pre-season favorites…through, say, 2010. As an NL exec told Jayson Stark, a rotation that consisted of Beckett, Dice-K, and Santana, to say nothing of Schilling and Clay “Oh No-No You Don’t” Buchholz, “might just be the best team in the history of the frigging universe.” It would also complicate Tito’s job. Seriously: which of these guys do you sit down to tell he’s going to be a fifth starter?
August 15th, 2007 → 9:12 am @ Seth Mnookin
Yeah, last weekend sucked. I mean, it really, really sucked. I had forgotten what a good, swift gut punch to the stomach felt like: on both Friday and Sunday, I went into the eighth totally sure the Sox would win. (I was once again reminded of the Celtics-Sixers game when Bird missed two free throws at the end of a game in Philly; the result was that the C’s lead remained at 2. Dr. J, naturally, hit and throw-up-a-prayer three to win the game.) Those blown saves, coupled with a still-sputtering offense, coupled with a Yankees team that seems incapable of losing…well, let’s just say even though I might pretend I like the excitement of a tight pennant race, I was really looking forward to nice, calm September.
So, to deal with all this, I took refuge, as I oft do, in the life of the mind…or, at least, the life of the procrastinator, and tried to figure out some lessons to take away from what will heretofore be referred to as the Great Gagne Massacre of 2007…
1. Gagne is still filthy; some of his 69 MPH curves last night looked downright unhittable. I’m not (that) worried about him not being a reliable 8th inning guy. No matter what, striking out the side is an impressive feat.
2. Speaking of a reliable 8th inning guy, I’m sure as shit glad that Okie from MuskaHokkaido is getting some rest. He needs it. (See: Proctor, Scott.) Despite the unfortunate results, last weekend’s — and last night’s — bullpen use by Tito made me glad, once again, that Torre ain’t in the Sox dugout. No team is going to succeed in the playoffs without a stable of relievers that can be relied upon, and if you want to rely on guys, you need to both keep them healthy and use them in enough situations to give them the confidence they can succeed when the game’s on the line.
3. Speaking of Torre, did anyone notice what Mariano has looked like the last few days? On Sunday, slow-and-steady Joe called on Mo to pitch an inning-plus for the ninth time this season. In the ninth, the great Panamanian One gave up two singles and a double, prompting Torre to come out to the mound to make sure the Greatest Postseason Closer in History (TM) wasn’t injured. Then, after throwing 30 pitches in that game, Mariano was called on again on Monday; not surprisingly, he gave up three singles in the ninth to allow the O’s to score the game’s tying run; if the O’s third-base coach hadn’t foolishly sent Mora home earlier in the inning, Baltimore would have gone into the bottom of the 9th with a 7-6 lead. That two-day sequence exemplifies Torre’s foolishness as well as anything: on one day, he’s worried he’s injured Riviera by riding him like an overworked hooker; a little more than 24 hours later, he throws him out there again.
4. Is there anyone else out there that would rather have Mike Lowell at the plate with the game on the line instead of Papi or Manny? (I know this is heresy, but I think right now, I might even prefer DP at the plate over the two Dominican sluggers. The world is a weird place.)
6. I also feel the man-love for Jon Lester.
That’s all for now. More on (He’s not Henry) Clay, among other topics, later…
May 25th, 2007 → 12:15 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s Memorial Day weekend, it’s 90 degrees…and I’m moving. Perfect timing! But I haven’t forgotten my blogalicious duties, so without furtherado, this wrapup/compendium:
* Some good news on the Sox’s home-grown pitching talent front and some thoughts about why it’s best to remember the all of the implications of every action. Jon Lester has been ripping it up at Pawtucket to the tune of around .8 Ks per inning and a 1.62 ERA. We all saw lefty Lester’s potential last year, and we all hope he’s back in the bigs soon. One thing we might all not know: if the infamous A-Rod for Manny trade had gone down in the winter of ’04, Lester wouldn’t be here…because he was slated to go to Texas as part of the deal. In other minor-league news, Clay Buchholz is getting raves at AA (to the point of folks saying he out-dueled Clemens earlier this week). The Sox were able to draft CB because of the compensatory pick they got when Pedro signed with the Mets. Every rational person would admit that, thus far, Petey hasn’t been worth his annual salary in New York. If Clay develops into a reliable fourth starter — and people are talking about him as much more than that — he’ll definitely be worth his. (One last interesting Buchholz note is that he dropped as low as he did in the draft because of a laptop theft in high school. I got arrested in high school (and did lots of stuff I should have been arrested for but wasn’t) so I’m fully in favor of second chances…
* Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Rob Bradford’s work. He has a recent couple of pieces worth checking out. His most recent post in his always-worth reading Herald blog, The Bradford Files has several interesting tidbits, including details of Sox players’ off-season workouts (I’m not going to be trying those anytime soon) and part of a Q/A with Eric Hinske. These are the types of things blogs should have: interesting notes that wouldn’t make it into the paper and standard-fare Q/As that aren’t jaw-droppingly revelatory but are interesting nonetheless. (One especially interesting note is Hinske’s thoughts about Theo’s relationship with the players.) And a Herald article from a couple of days ago is another example of why I’m a fan of Rob’s: a evergreen feature on Sox advance scouts Dana Levangie and Todd Claus actually teaches you something about the team you might not know even if you were an obsessive reader of all things Red Sox related…
* Speaking of evergreens, Gordo has a nice piece in the Globe about the job of official scorers. This is an perfect example of a story that oftentimes wouldn’t make it into the paper for all the wrong reasons: because it seems obvious to everyone on the inside. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that’s not the case for your average reader.
* Two interesting perspectives on the Sox’s recent successes…and reasons why they might not be the winningest team in baseball when all is said and done. The ProJo’s Sean McAdam weighs in on the J.D. Drew’s struggles and the bullpen’s successes. McAdam finds Drew’s offensive suckitude troubling (you’ll get no argument from me there) and the bullpen’s lights-outedness unlikely to continue (ditto). But — and this is a big but — it seems like there’s a logical inconsistency behind thinking a consistently good player won’t return to his level and a group that’s collectively over achieving will fall back to earth. The Telegram-Gazette‘s Bill Ballou looks at all of the Sox’s underachievers (Crisp, Drew, Hinske, Pineiro, and Manny) and sees an illustration of Francona’s skills as a manager: one of the ways he keeps the clubhouse functioning smoothly in a tough-to-play-in town is by showing faith in guys when they’re scuffling. As Ballou notes, sometimes in pays off (Damon and Bellhorn in the ’04 playoffs) and sometimes it doesn’t (Bellhorn and Millar in the ’05 season). One point I’d add: it’s not always just that Francona is showing patience; sometimes it’s that the players are acting like whiny little punks (Millar in the ’05 season).
* Speaking of Manny, if the Sox weren’t tearing it up, we’d be hearing a lot more about his general suckiness, a topic Edes covered earlier this week (and one that’s been receiving some attention over at SoSH). Edes talks to the scout that signed Manny about his seeming hesitation at the plate. It’s hard not to get a tinge of panic when watching him walk back to the bench after being called out on strikes one more time; on the other hand, I was with the Sox in 2005, the Gammons “he just doesn’t care out there” year, the “I’m worried about my mom and her blood transfusions” year, the black-hole until late May year. History says there’s no reason to expect this to be any different. Emotions worry otherwise.
* And finally, for everyone out there who thinks the Lugo signing was, based on the evidence thus far, an unmitigated disaster, here’s an interesting factoid: John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible, says Lugo’s been the fourth best defensive shortstop in all of baseball.
That’s it for now. It’s gonna be a hot one this weekend, and you don’t need to be back at work until Monday. That means, of course, that it’s an absolutely perfect time to read Feeding the Monster, which is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!). And, of course, free signed and personalized bookplates are here for the asking. Theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one. Or just write in. But whatever you do, act today.
March 15th, 2007 → 11:50 am @ Seth Mnookin
As previously noted, this is not the first time that an opt-out clause in A-Rod’s contract has garnered attention: it was that very clause that ended up being, in a roundabout way, the sticking point in the Sox-Rangers deal that would have moved A-Rod to Boston and Manny to Texas. Obviously, it’s way too late to be running sneak peeks from Feeding the Monster (although if you missed them, there are lots of interesting ones, as well as other excerpts from the book, over here. And don’t forget, FTM is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!) and, as always, free, signed, personalized bookplates are still available. (Virtual) operates are standing by!). So what should we call this. A post-peak? Whatever it is, here’s a section of the book detailing the breakdown of those ’03-’04 talks.
That period is especially interesting in retrospect. As you’ll see below, players union head Gene Orza rejected the Sox’s offer of those opt-outs in return for shaving about $4 mil/year off of A-Rod’s salary because Orza thought that offer was essentially worthless; after all no one had signed a $20 million deal since those crazy days of 2000-2001. Well, folks, crazy days are here again, and with Gary Matthews getting $50 million deals, who out there doesn’t think A-Rod could add to his bottom line should he actually end up doing a whole new deal after this season? What’s more, it was these negotiations that started the breakdown in Theo’s and Larry’s relationship. Good times! (And: an interesting footnote to all this: Jon Lester was the pitching prospect who was going to be thrown into the deal.) Without further throat-clearing:
“By mid December, newspapers around the country were reporting that a Rangers-Red Sox deal was all but completed. Boston would send Manny Ramirez (as well as some cash to help pay out the $98 million still owed him) and minor league pitcher Jon Lester to the Rangers. The Rangers would send Rodriguez to the Sox, and Rodriguez, in return for getting the chance to play for a contender, would reduce the annual value of the years left on his deal. A corollary deal would send Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez.
And that was supposed to be that. Garciaparraâ€šÃ„Ã´s teammates readied themselves for a new shortstop, a prospect that they were frankly looking forward to. ‘When youâ€šÃ„Ã´re talking about a guy whoâ€šÃ„Ã´s going to be a leader and be the face of the organization, thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s Alex Rodriguez,’ Kevin Millar said on December 16th on ESPN. ‘Manny leads in the batterâ€šÃ„Ã´s box and Nomar prepares himself to play hard everyday but youâ€šÃ„Ã´re talking about a leader in Alex Rodriguezâ€šÃ„Â¶. I mean, A-Rodâ€šÃ„Ã´s the best in the game.’
Because of the high profiles of the players and the enormous sums of money involved, officials at Major League Baseball and the Playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s Association, the union for professional baseball players, had joined in the discussions even before a deal had been finalized. Gene Orza, a top union official, had given Rodriguez the requisite permission needed for Rodriguez to discuss a restructuring of his contract with the Red Sox. According to an article by The Boston Globeâ€šÃ„Ã´s Gordon Edes, Orza also called a top official in Major League Baseballâ€šÃ„Ã´s central office and said, ‘I want you to get word to Larry [Lucchino] that weâ€šÃ„Ã´ll do everything within our power to get this thing doneâ€šÃ„Ã®itâ€šÃ„Ã´s great for baseball and we love Alexâ€šÃ„Ã®but I hope Larry doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t abuse the process, as he is wont to do.’ Soon after, Lucchino and Orza had a conversation in which Orza reminded Lucchino that any reduction in the average annual value in a playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s contract needed to be offset by some other ‘added benefit’ which the player received.
The Red Sox and Rodriguez ended up working out a deal in which Rodriguez would cut approximately $4 million a year off the last seven years of his deal in return for some licensing rights and the ability to declare free agency at different points during the remaining years of his contract (emphasis added for the purpose of this post). When the two sides presented the deal to Orza, he was dumbfounded. No one had signed a contract for as much as $20 million in years, Orza said. The made the offer of free agency essentially worthlessâ€šÃ„Ã®there was no way Rodriguez would ever sign a more lucrative contract again. Orza made a counter-proposal he said the union would be able to accept, in which the Red Sox would save a total of about $12 million instead of $28 million. The Red Sox initially rejected Orzaâ€šÃ„Ã´s figure, but both sides assumed theyâ€šÃ„Ã´d keep working towards a compromise.
Then, on the same night in which Orza had presented his proposal, Larry Lucchino issued a statement. ‘It is a sad day when the Players Association thwarts the will of its members,’ Lucchino said. ‘The Players Association asserts that it supports individual negotiations, freedom of choice, and player mobility. However, in this high-profile instance, their action contradicts this and is contrary to the desires of the player. We appreciate the flexibility and determination Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez have shown in their effort to move to Boston and the Red Sox.’
The move was typical of Lucchinoâ€šÃ„Ã´s career. Despite his unprecedented record as a CEO and despite the high esteem in which his many admirers held him, Lucchino had a hair-trigger sense of being slighted and often seemed to be spoiling for a fight. Heâ€šÃ„Ã´d been a union adversary for years. If Orza was being difficult to spite him, Lucchino wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t going to back down. But by trying to create the impression of a rift between the union and Rodriguez, baseballâ€šÃ„Ã´s highest paid player, Lucchino actually made it less likely Rodriguez would make a stand about the issue. And now, not only was Orza angry, but Rodriguez, according to people close to him, was upset, both that Lucchino would give the impression he was speaking for Rodriguez and that Lucchino would draw Rodriguezâ€šÃ„Ã´s wife Cynthia into the picture. Rangersâ€šÃ„Ã´ owner Tom Hicks was annoyed as well, and within days, the Boston newspapers were reporting that Lucchino had been pulled off of the A-Rod negotiations and that Tom Werner had taken over.
Lucchino characterizes what happened differently. ‘I was frustrated,’ he says, talking both about the union negotiations and his efforts to get Hicks to reduce the amount of money he was asking for to augment Manny Ramirezâ€šÃ„Ã´s salary. ‘At one point, I was talking to Tom and John and I said, ‘One of you guys should try to talk to [Hicks], maybe youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll have better luck.’ And Tom said, â€šÃ„Ã²Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ll call him.” John Henry agrees with Lucchinoâ€šÃ„Ã´s assessment. ‘Larry went for Christmas to see his mother in Pittsburgh,’ Henry says. ‘We didnâ€šÃ„Ã´t send him out of town. Tom still tried to get the deal going, but it wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t like weâ€šÃ„Ã´d lost faith in Larry.’ In the coming weeks, there would be various attempts to resurrect a dealâ€šÃ„Ã®all to no avail. By January, the Rangers and the Red Sox had ceased discussions.”
September 1st, 2006 → 6:25 pm @ Seth Mnookin
For Immediate Release
September 1, 2006
BOSTON, MA–The Lester family has asked the Red Sox to release the following statement:
“Jon Lester has been diagnosed with a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma and will begin treatment within the coming week.
Jon and his family wish to thank all those involved in his care at Massachusetts General Hospital. Our gratitude also extends to the Red Sox organization which has provided Jon and his family much needed support during this ordeal.
We ask that you respect our need for privacy during this difficult time.”
(Here’s a link to a Children’s Hospital fact sheet about large cell lymphoma.)
EDIT: If people want to post their thoughts for Lester in the comments section, I’ll do my best to forward them on to the appropriate parties.